Jill Fields

in An Intimate Affair

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2007 | ISBN: 9780520223691
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520941137 | DOI:

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This chapter studies the Western cultural prohibition against women wearing divided garments or trousers. It shows that the association of men with trousers and women with dresses, as well as the importance of separating men and women through a distinction in attire, helped extend the prohibition against trousers even to women's underwear. This is further illustrated in the introduction of women's underpants during the early nineteenth century. These underpants were distinguished from those of men's through the addition of an open crotch. It states that these underpants—or drawers, as they were called during the time—implied and permitted sexual access, which coexisted with the Victorian propriety and its ideology of masculine domination and feminine passionlessness. The chapter then looks at the shift in the meanings of the open crotch underpants that occurred in the 1930s, when women started asserting individual and group claims to sexual pleasure, political power, and economic independence. These underpants became associated with lasciviousness and immodesty.

Keywords: cultural prohibition; divided garments; underpants; sexual access; Victorian propriety; masculine domination

Chapter.  10682 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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